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It’s the nerves… July 17, 2012

Posted by The Raise Project in Women in Science.
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It’s the nerves! In a British study, girls and boys performed equally in math; yet in test scenarios, girls with Math Anxiety scored lower. Read the full study and abstract here.

Behavioral and Brain Functions 2012, 8:33 doi:10.1186/1744-9081-8-33

Published: 9 July 2012

Background

Mathematics anxiety (MA), a state of discomfort associated with performing mathematical tasks, is thought to affect a notable proportion of the school age population. Some research has indicated that MA negatively affects mathematics performance and that girls may report higher levels of MA than boys. On the other hand some research has indicated that boys’ mathematics performance is more negatively affected by MA than girls’ performance is. The aim of the current study was measure girls’ and boys’ mathematics performance as well as their levels of MA while controlling for test anxiety (TA) a construct related to MA but which is typically not controlled for in MA studies.

Methods

Four-hundred and thirty three British secondary school children in school years 7, 8 and 10 completed customised mental mathematics tests and MA and TA questionnaires.

Results

No gender differences emerged for mathematics performance but levels of MA and TA were higher for girls than for boys. Girls and boys showed a positive correlation between MA and TA and a negative correlation between MA and mathematics performance. TA was also negatively correlated with mathematics performance, but this relationship was stronger for girls than for boys. When controlling for TA, the negative correlation between MA and performance remained for girls only. Regression analyses revealed that MA was a significant predictor of performance for girls but not for boys.

Conclusions

The results indicate that, in a British secondary school sample, girls report higher levels of MA than boys. Anxiety experienced by boys may simply reflect general test anxiety, whereas girls experience specific anxiety towards mathematics, which is above and beyond any general anxiety associated with testing situations. Speculatively, girls may have had the potential to outperform boys in maths, but their higher levels of MA may have attenuated their performance. As MA can lead to the development of negative attitudes towards mathematics and drop-out from mathematics classes, MA warrants attention in the classroom.

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Comments»

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The Raise Project - August 7, 2012

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